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The Giro d'Italia Mountains Preview

Stage 19: Cervinia
Stage 19: Cervinia
Photo by Will

Ciao a tutti!  Benvenuti in montagna.  Welcome to our 2015 Giro d'Italia Mountain Preview.

I've heard some grumblings that this is a relatively easy route, especially compared to 2014. And that's perhaps true. But Colle delle Finestre is statistically tougher than anything from 2014 (Stelvio, Gavia, Monte Grappa, etc), and this year's crazy-steep-climb Mortirolo is longer with more ascent than last year's (admittedly steeper) crazy-steep-climb Zoncolan.   And there are plenty of well designed stages where we should hopefully see some excellent bike racing.

I know you're excited, but hang in there, we've got a lot to get through:  We're going to rank the top climbs by difficulty. Then we'll review the five high mountain stages.  And finally you'll vote to decide the Queen stage (spoiler alert:  there are three great candidates).

But first, there are so many potentially fun mountain stages this year that frankly it's difficult to know where to start.  So before we get into any detail here's a quick overview:

Twelve Mountain Stages

There are twelve mountain stages in this Giro, six with summit finishes.  Versus the 2014 Giro's eleven mountain stages with ten summit finishes.

  • Six Medium Mountain stages without summit finish  - Stages 3,4,9,11,12,18
  • One Medium Mountain stage with summit finish - Stage 5
  • Five High Mountain Stages with summit finish - Stages 8, 15, 16, 19, 20.

Thirty-Nine Categorised Climbs

By my (probably incorrect) count, there are thirty-nine categorised climbs in the 2015 Giro versus forty in 2014. Remember, unlike the Tour de France, the Giro does NOT use the Hors Categorie classification.

The breakdown below shows that while there are fewer monsters than in 2014, the smaller climbs are more of a challenge.  Perhaps putting more teeth into the mid-mountain stages.

Category 1:  12 climbs - including La Cima Coppi.  (10 in 2015)
Category 2:  11 climbs (8 in 2015)
Category 3:  10 climbs (13 in 2015)
Category 4:    3 climbs (8 in 2015)


Below are the statistics for the thirty-one Category 1, 2 and 3 climbs including a difficulty rating.


To rate the climbs I have used the difficulty index from that we have used previously.I know, I know, it's a slightly flawed formula. But it's easy to calculate and useful as a starting point of discussion. See this link for more on the difficulty index.

Rating = the difficulty of the climb according to the formula.  So Colle delle Finestre with a difficulty rating of 201 is calculated to be the hardest climb in the Giro.   For perspective, that compares  with the 2014 Giro: 184 for Zoncolan, 165 for Stelvio, (or 124 for all you Alpe d'Huez fan boys).

Probably the easiest way to discuss the climbs is by looking at the five high mountain stages one at a time.  So first, here are the same 31 climbs as above, but instead of being ranked by difficulty, they are grouped by stage. So in the chart climbs in the same stage are the same colour. Remember Stages 8, 15, 16, 19, and 20 are the five high mountain stages - all with mountain top finishes.


Stage 8 - Campitello Matese

Definitely the easiest of the five high mountain stages. Campitello Matese is the 8th most difficult climb in the Giro.  It is a small ski station in the Appenines - the mountain range running down the length of Italy.  It has previously hosted 6 Giro mountain top finishes: '69 (Chiappano), '82 (Hinault), '83 (Fernandez), '88 (Chioccioli), '94 (Berzin), '02 (Simoni).

Simoni winning here in 2002:

For the Tourists:  according to the official Giro web site Campitello Matese is known for its tagliatelle in a wild boar sauce - best with a Biferno red?

Stage 8

Stage 15 - Madonna di Campiglio

Get ready for a heavy dose of Marco Pantani nostalgia.  The Giro last climbed Madonna di Campiglio in 1999. It was the last Giro stage ever won by Pantani. The next morning a positive EPO test result was revealed and the defending Giro/Tour champion was forced to quit the race while wearing the pink leader's jersey.

Stage 15

For the Tourists: Madonna di Campiglio is a ski station in the Brenta Dolomites. Its web site fearlessly proclaims that it "is today most certainly Italy’s number one ski resort as well as one of the most important resorts in the Alps."  Swedes will remember that Jan Ingemar Stenmark won his first major ski event here.

Stage 16 - Aprica

The highlight of this super tough stage will be the penultimate climb: Passo del Mortirolo - also known as Passo della Foppa. With a maximum grade of 18% it's the second most difficult climb of the 2015 Giro.


At the 11th tornante (hairpin) the riders will pass a Pantani monument - Pantani was first over Mortirolo in '94, one of its eleven previous Giro appearances. Fans hang their smelly bandanas below the statue.


It's a narrow, nicely surfaced road.  But silly Steep:


This will be the 9th time that the little ski station of Aprica has hosted a Giro mountain top finish: '62 (Adorni), '90 (Sierra), '91 (Chioccioli), '94 (Pantani), '96 (Gotti), '99 (Heras), '06 (Basso), '10 (Scarponi).  Note, the stage climbs Aprica twice.


For the tourists:  Mortirolo is difficult.  Very difficult.  But that's about all.  Cyclotourists should head up the valley to Bormio which sits at the start of both Passo di Gavia and Passo dello Stelvio.  Both far higher, and far more beautiful than Mortirolo.

Stage 19 - Cervinia

A very fun stage in the Val d'Aosta, the semi-autonomous Alps region with both Italian and French as official languages.  Monte Cervino is the Italian name for the Matterhorn, and the peak will dominate the views at the finish in the ski town of Cervinia. The stage also includes the 5th (Saint-Barthélemy) and 3rd (Col Saint-Pantaléon) toughest climbs of the Giro.

The Matterhorn:

stage 19

Col Saint-Pantaléon is a scenic climb to no-where, beginning by climbing through vineyards.  There is no ski station at the top (although it descends into one), and is thus an extremely quiet ride.  The toughest stretch is near the summit before it passes into the next valley. 


The climb to Cervinia is actually 27 kilometres long, but the Giro joins the route part way up - see profile below.


This will be the 4th time for the Giro at Cervinia:  '60 (Asti), '97 (Gotti), '12 (Amador).  When I cycled to Cervinia a few weeks ago, while ordering a coffee at a little bar, a chatty server mentioned how she was hoping for better weather than the rainy stage in 2012:

For the tourists:  On the south side of Mont Blanc, the Val d'Aosta is the smallest and least populous official region in Italy.  It's full of huge cycling climbs, probably the most famous being Colle del Grande San Bernardo and Colle del Picollo San Bernardo.  For an overview map and details of climbs in the region see here.

Stage 20 - Sestrière

A final mountain stage to decide the Giro on one of the toughest climbs in cycling with a little strada bianca (gravel road) thrown in for extra fun.  Wooohooo.

stage 20

Colle delle Finestre averages 9.1% for over 18 kilometres.  It is consistently steep: there is no-where to rest, no-where to hide.  At 2178 metres, it is the Cima Coppi - the highest point - in the 2015 Giro.


The lower half of the climb is narrow, but well surfaced and full of hairpins:


While much will be made of the unpaved final 8 kilometres of Finestre, the road will be steam-rolled before the stage: This was taken 2 days before the 2011 stage here.  Smooth:


The top of the climb is awesome, lots of crazy hairpins in a remote, mountain environment.


This will be the third Giro appearance for Finestre: '05 (Di Luca), '11 (Kiryenka).  There are (or at least were last I visited) two monuments to Di Luca at the summit (both in photo below).  There is also a fun rock garden above the Colle dedicated to the biggest cycling climbs in Europe.


For the Tourists:  If there is interest, I may write a more detailed history of this great climb, just before the stage. But Colle delle Finestre it at the far end of the Strada dell'Assietta, a super-high old military road built in the 19th century linking several strategic military emplacements.  Perfect for cyclo-touring with thicker tires.  Official web-site.

Final Thoughts

Every high mountain stage of this Giro is a mountain top finish.  Colle delle Finestre and Mortirolo will be spectacles. Seven mid-mountain stages.  I am excited.  Don't forget to vote below for your choice of Queen stage.

And if you though Pantani was fast in the above videos, just watch this clown, climbing Colle delle Finestre in 2011: